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The Joy of Desire

“One of the reasons why so few of us ever act, instead of react, is because we are continually stifling our deepest impulses.”  – Henry Miller

Have you ever been around children for any significant amount of time?  If you have, as a parent, or teacher, or coach, or in another role, you know that getting them to do what you want is difficult.  You want them to sit quietly and complete their math problems, or you want them to get in line for the next drill you are going to run, or you just want them to clean up after themselves and come into the kitchen to eat.  But, they don’t want to do what you want.  They want to do what they want.

If you’ve ever been in a power struggle with a 5 year old, you know the lengths that kids will go to in order to get what they want.  Children are much more closely connected with their desires than adults are, and have no shame in trying to fulfill them.

What if you could connect with your desires that way?  To know what you wanted and to have no shame in wanting to fulfill it.  That would make you a powerful force in the world – for yourself and for others.

Why Connect With Your Desires?

There is a difference between “I desire a hot fudge brownie sundae” and “I desire to reform the education system so children learn how to appreciate and use their strengths” (just an example).  We use the word “desire” in both instances but mean different things by them.  Generally, we think of desires as indulgent wishes that we shouldn’t have.  But a desire is something that you want to create in the world that arises from your self.

Desires create joy in your life

Have you ever worked with someone who hated their job?  What are they like to be around?  What kind of atmosphere do they bring to the environment?    Even with the most noble intentions, when you hate what you do, you take from the situation instead of giving to it.  You have no intent to be a creative problem-solver looking for innovative solutions, you only want to get through the day.  That attitude spreads like a virus and affects the people around you for the worse.

Now, have you ever worked with someone who loved what they did?  What is it like to be around them?  When you identify, search for, and live your desires you increase the joy in your life.  Joy is a feeling that weaves itself throughout all the aspects of your life.  It’s stronger than just happiness, because happiness is situational.  In fact being a joyful person doesn’t mean that you don’t feel pain or suffering.  But, struggling to bring your desires to life is much different than struggling each day because you have no joy.  Living with joy involves feeling energetic, creative, courageous, vibrant, connected and passionate.  This is not a luxury – this is the way that you were meant to live.

Desires are your best contribution to the world

If I always do what I desire, isn’t that selfish?  Shouldn’t I do what needs to be done?  When you do not live according to your desires, you rob the world of your best self, which is your best gift.  Instead of giving the best you have, and solving the problem that is uniquely yours to solve, you take from the world by leaving a hole where you should be.

What’s beautiful about living your desires is that it brings you joy, and it’s also your best contribution.  It is both selfish and selfless at the same time.  There is no separation between the two.

Why Don’t We Connect With Our Desires?

We never look

The number one reason why we don’t connect with our desires is because we never look for them.  It seems easy that we should know what we want, but the answer never just comes to us – we have to go looking for it.  If we pay attention, we are given clues as to what our desires are, and if you collect these clues and put them into a whole picture, your desires begin to take form.

Sometimes it never occurs to people that they actually have desires.  If you believe that life is about following a well-worn path, it may never occur to you that you desire something different from that.  It takes pain to appear in your life before you understand that the well-worn path may not be what you want – that you desire something different.

We don’t want to take responsibility

Knowing that our desires exist requires responsibility, because if we know what our desires are and we don’t pursue them we abandon the responsibility of creating our own lives.  It’s easier to believe you don’t have desires or you don’t have a choice because following your desires is difficult and often painful.


When people do know what their desires are, often, fear holds them back.  However, fear is just a sign that you need to address an area of your life.  Fear tells us where we need to go next. So, it’s fitting that when we first realize our desires we have fear.  Fear of rejection, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness, are major reasons that people never embark on their journeys to reach their desires.

Lack of faith and self worth

What if you do know what your desires are, but they seem unlikely, unusual or downright impossible?  A lot of people stop here, believing their desires cannot be reached.  It requires faith to take the first steps (or last steps, or middle steps) towards your desires.  Faith (all religious connotations aside) is a trust in the unknown.  It’s required to bring any desire into being, but especially those that are unusual.

While faith applies to a belief that your desires can exist, self worth addresses whether you feel you are deserving of your desires.  Why do I have any right to live a life where I live my desires?  Simply because they are yours and you feel them strongly.  Without a feeling of self worth your desires will never materialize.

We believe our desires are selfish

We don’t want to appear to others to be too involved in our self, and somewhere deep down we’ve been taught that what we want is not to be trusted.  However, following your desires leads to your best contribution to your fellow men (mankind, that is).  They are your best gift to others.

How To Connect With Your Desires

Connecting with what you truly desire is the first step towards creating a life you love.  You have to know what they are, and you have to have the faith and self worth to carry them out.  Desires are felt strongly in your body, you know when you’ve hit upon them.  It’s that feeling that will carry you through doubt, obstacles, and fear.  Here’s how you find and connect with your own true desires.

You have to accept anything you find.  Don’t judge or censor yourself when searching for your desires.

This is a prerequisite of finding your desires.  It is the correct mindset to be in.  When you begin to look for your desires you must accept everything that you find, whether you like it at first or not.  If you have been living a life on the “well worn path” you have an idea of what is “appropriate” in life and what is not.  But, your desires and your self don’t conform to this idea of “appropriateness.”  Your self wants what it wants, and this may seem strange or unusual to you at first (or maybe not).  But, no matter what you find you have to accept it for what it is.  This is the only way to begin to live your desires.

Why do you want to know what your desires are?

Think about why you asked yourself “What do I want?”  Is there an area of dissatisfaction in your life?  Does everything “look right on paper” but you have a vague feeling that something isn’t right?  Are you in pain?  Identify what made you ask this question and you will have your first clues as to what your desires are.  Pain is an indicator that you need to grow (because you have outgrown your current situation).  In what areas of your life do you feel pain?  This will point you in the right direction.

Look ahead to the future

Ask yourself the question “What do I Desire?”  Don’t worry about how to interpret the question or any of your answers.  This should be a quick activity.  Write down answers as they come to you, and do not judge or censor yourself, write down everything that comes to mind.  Do this until you feel you have exhausted all possibilities.

Read through your list.  Notice which items stand out to you.  Cross off any that don’t.  Next, notice patterns throughout your items.  Are there things that show up again and again?  This will give you a rough idea of what you desire.

Look back at your past

The clues to your desires have been there all along – you just haven’t seen them because you weren’t looking.  This next step involves reflecting on the life you have already lived.  You want to ask yourself the following questions (and as before, do this as quickly as you can, take the first answers that come to you):

  • What have I most enjoyed doing in my life?  (Think back through all areas of your life – your jobs, school, your hobbies, volunteer work, time with friends and family)
  • In what endeavors have I done well? (Same as above)

After you have the answers to these questions, compare them.  Which answers overlap?  You are looking for things that you have enjoyed doing and in which you did well.

Here are a few more questions that can be used to reflect on and analyze your past:

  • When have I felt the most “alive”?
  • When have I felt the most “natural”?
  • During what activities did I become unaware of time passing?  (This is part of the concept of Flow.)

Look at your present

Now that you’ve analyzed your past pay attention to your present.  This is the skill of observing yourself.  Observing yourself is the process of noticing what’s happening around you and asking yourself “how do I feel in this situation”?  As you are observing yourself there are two questions you want to be asking:

  • Does this situation give me energy?
  • Does this situation take away my energy?

Your desires always energize you, so identifying what does and doesn’t give you energy is a major clue.  Seek out situations that give you energy and avoid situations that take it away.  Also, notice what specific emotions you feel during your present circumstance.  And, don’t forget to ask yourself the follwing two questions:

  • Do I enjoy this activity?
  • Do I do well at this activity?

Reject what you don’t want

Another aspect to seeking out your desires is to reject things in your life that you don’t want.  This will be one of the first action steps you take because it’s easier to know the things you don’t want than to know the things you do want.  As you observe yourself and analyze your past, eliminate those things that take energy away from you and that you don’t enjoy.  If it’s not contributing to your desires it needs to be removed.  This will be a lengthy process.  One by one begin to eliminate these things.

Are These My True Desires?

At this point the hard work is done, or ongoing, and your desires will begin to take shape.  You may be asking, “how do I know if my desire is real and coming from my self?”  Here is how to tell if your desire is real:

You should feel fear

A true desire requires courage to undertake, and in order for you to use courage there must be fear.  When you think of living your desire you should feel energetic and passionate, but, you should also feel afraid because living your desires is an assertion of your true self and there are risks associated with that.

Your desires are intrinsically motivated

Our desires are things that we want to create.  They start as seeds in our self and we strive to help them grow in physical reality.  The motivation to live your desire must be intrinsic, you must take pleasure in the process of bringing your desire to life.  If you desire something based on an object (status, prestige, money, authority, attention, etc.) then your desire is not true.  True desires are based on the will to create, not to attain.

Trust yourself

The process of seeking out your desires is highly intuitive.  You must go where you are drawn and trust that you are not going in the wrong direction.

Desires are strongly felt

There is no such thing as being luke-warm about a desire.  Either you are burning red-hot or not at all.  Desires are felt very strongly in your body and should bring up powerful emotions.  They are intense, and that intensity is what keeps you going.

What do I most want to give?

Another way to know your desire is true is to ask yourself “What do I most want to give?”  When you answer this question and the response gives you a sense of joy and you have found your desire.  Remember desires are things that you love to do and that also make a contribution to the world.

The final question

There is one last question you can ask yourself in order to know if you have found your desires.

If you were to die suddenly, without any expectation, and you had just a few moments of consciousness left, what would you regret not having done in your life?

Where Do I Begin?

With your desire held firmly in your body and your mind, ask yourself “What is my next (first) step?” Your next move can only be made with the resources you already have around you, so see what you have and make a move.  When things seem impossible ask yourself “How can I…?” or “What do I need to do…?” to keep yourself focused on the attainment of your desire and not on how difficult it’s going to be.

Let your desires guide you.  When in doubt, return to the intensity of your desires to lead you in the process of making them real.

Note:  This is a re-write of the first post that I ever wrote for this blog, called “How To Know What You Want.”  The main ideas are the same, but this post expands upon the ideas and goes into much more depth.

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  1. Amanda, this is a very thorough article, I especially inspired by the ways we can know if it’s our true desire. This sentence is something I am pondering…
    “True desires are based on the will to create, not to attain.”


  2. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Robert – Thanks! I find that we often wonder whether or not what we really want is true to our self, so I wanted to make sure to include that section.

  3. Once again Amanda, beautifully written!

    So much of life pushes us farther and farther away from the things that could make us truly happy.

    I spent the last few days with my wonderful two year old granddaughter who underscores your point perfectly.

    I just wish they could put it in pill form!

    Roger’s last blog post..Multi-Tasking

  4. […] you learn about yourself, the discoveries you make about your personality, your passions, and how you want to live are exciting and energize you for the journey ahead. But, inevitably, you […]

  5. We believe our desires are selfish – this list of actions are great and really help me get in touch with myself. But what is wrong with being rationally selfish. The goal is not to share with others in and of itself it is to live. And in living fully we can celebrate our success with others as they share with us. Why don’t you just say that rational selfishness is good and that altruism is destorying the world. The Greeks knew this and practices Arete. John Galt knows this and achieves the highest values of man through his own perfection. Steven Jobs worked for his own benefit and growth but improved eveyones life in the world. His goal was his happiness but what is good for one man is good for all men in principle. I don’t mean the very same choices have to apply.

  6. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Hi George – Thanks for your thoughts here. I think this is an interesting topic.

  7. Have you ever read Atlas Shrugged?

  8. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    George – No, I haven’t. I have read The Fountainhead, though.

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